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15 Adar I 5784 - February 24, 2024

Parshat Tetzaveh

Rabbi's Reflections

-Make Yourself an Altar: Holy Impact-

One of the most encouraging feelings we can experience is knowing that we have served as a positive influence in the life of another. We all remember with fondness those special people in our lives whose advice, involvement, guidance or wisdom changed us for the better and what’s more, inspired us to be positive influences in the lives of others as well. But being a positive influence is not something reserved for educators, leaders and parents alone. Being a positive influence is an obligation for everyone, and we learn this lesson from this week’s parsha. Towards the end of Parshat Tetzaveh, we learn about the consecration of the Altar, as it says, “Seven days shall you perform atonement upon the Altar and sanctify it. Henceforth, the Altar shall be a holy of holies. Whatever touches the Altar will remain holy” (Shemot 29:37). The use of the words “holy of holies,” is striking. While we are familiar with the Holy of Holies in the Holy Temple, the use of this term when referring to the Altar needs some clarification. Why is the Altar called the “holy of holies”? According to Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch, the Altar is called this because the term “holy of holies denotes a sacred thing from which other sacred things derive their sanctity… (Commentary on Shemot 29:37). In other words, the Altar is the source of holiness which has the power to make other things holy as well, as Rashi says, “And in what is [the Altar’s] sanctity manifest? In that ‘Whatever touches the Altar shall become consecrated.’ The Altar consecrates even an invalid offering that is placed upon it to render it fit in that it should not be taken down from the Altar” (Rashi on Shemot 29:37). As the source of the holiness, the Altar not only can make other things holy, but what’s more, it can make even that which is invalid, unfit, unholy – holy!

According the Rav Moshe Feinstein, the inherent sanctity of the Altar, which has the ability to make even the unholy, holy, serves as a model for us to consider how we can be positive, holy influences on others. In the words of Rav Moshe, the Altar teaches us “about the obligation incumbent upon us all to serve as positive influences on others and to never push them aside, for even an invalid sacrifice was made valid via the holiness of the Altar. Even if you know that your influence will last but a moment, you are still obligated to try to serve as a positive influence, especially if you don’t know the extent of your influence” (Sefer Kol Ram, Parshat Tetzaveh 407:10). In other words, we have to make ourselves like the Altar, sources of holiness which can make others holy, regardless of their current state, simply by coming into contact with them. 

We all have the obligation to serve as positive influences on others. This Shabbat, let us consider that responsibility and strive to infuse holiness in the lives of others as we strive to live lives as sources of holiness ourselves. May we always believe in our ability to make positive impacts on others, and may we always believe in our ability to serve as positive influences – transforming the lives of those around us for the better by being living altars of holiness, inspiring the sacred through sacred living.

Shabbat Shalom!

-Rabbi Dan

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